Suicidal ideation, unfortunately, is a very universal experience that crosses culture, race, ethnicity, gender and social class. This is what we can do with our craft and skills to bring awareness to the specific epidemic of teen suicides on Native American Reservations. We hope to humanize the people behind the story by creating a universally-relatable story within a culturally-specific context.
The 7th Generation
In Native American cultures, the Seventh Generation refers to the impact of an individual's action down through seven future generations from themselves. Hence, we must in consider the legacy of our actions, both good and bad as it impacts the future of our communities.
Specifically for the Lakota tribe--the community of focus in our film--the current youth represent the 7th generation from the great Lakota political and spiritual leader, Sitting Bull, and the legacy of the Battle at Little Big Horn. The Standing Rock camp in 2016 was reminiscent of the 1876 camps at the Little Big Horn River where over 10,000 people sought refuge with Sitting Bull after the US Army started rounding up Native Americans who lived off the reservation as hostiles. After Sherman Custer's unprovoked attack on the Little Big Horn camp, the tribes led a counter attack that decimated Custer's troops. This was hailed as a major victory for Native Americans in a time when their rights and land were being systematically attacked and seized by the US Government.
Competitive track and field
Track and field, especially long distance running, has has a long and celebrated legacy in modern Native American history. Besides the practical trade and communication aspects of running, It is believed that a runner creates a spiritual connection between the earth and sky. Running towards a rising sun is a way to greet the gods in the morning and increases pride, self-esteem and a connection to cultural identity. Native American Olympians runners include Jim Thorpe (Sac and Fox), Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota), Louis Tewanima (Hopi), Frank Mount Pleasant (Tuscarora), and Tom Boat (Onandaga).
Suicide among native American Youth
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native American youth between 10 and 24 years of age.
The overall suicide rate among Native Americans regardless of age is 16.93% compared to the overall US rate of 12.08%.
Among Native American youth, lifetime rates of ATTEMPTING suicide range from 21.8% in girls to 11.8% in boys, with 17.6% of both sexes raised on reservations to 14.3% of both sexes raised in urban areas. For those thinking about or planning suicide, known as SUICIDAL IDEATION, 32.6% of Native youth reported having done so in their lifetime and 21% for Native youth in urban areas. That means 1 in 3 Native American youth have considered suicide in their lifetime and 1 in 6 Native American youth have actually attempted suicide.
Factors that protect Native American Youth from suicide include:
- Infrastructure for tribal self-governance, ownership of their lands, and presence of cultural facilities
- Strong identification and practice of indigenous cultural customs, religion and spirituality
- Connectedness to family and friends
Factors that increase the risk of suicide among Native American Youth include:
- Alcohol and drug use
- History of trauma, disenfranchisement and destruction of cultural practices and seizure of tribal lands
- Alienation due to loss of connectedness to family, community, origin or culture
- Psychosocial stress due to pressures to acculturate with "mainstream"
- Discrimination and racism (including overt acts and microaggressions)
- Victimization from domestic violence or hate crimes
- Fear of using mental health services due to mistrust of "mainstream" techniques and White service providers
- Contagion of suicides among peers
FOR CULTURALLY-APPROPRIATE SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES GO TO: https://www.sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/Suicide_Prevention_Guide.pdf